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 South Africa: TAU Bulletin - The Haiti Hiatus and the Problem of Food

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Join date : 2010-02-07

PosOnderwerp: South Africa: TAU Bulletin - The Haiti Hiatus and the Problem of Food   Fri Mar 05, 2010 9:31 pm

Date Posted: Friday 05-Mar-2010
Submitted by Kobie Nel
Interesting one. Not what you see in the press.



The most important feature to stand out in the recent chain of events following Haiti’s earthquake was the lack of food. People slept on the streets, most were homeless, others were injured, but all needed to eat every day.

The shambles and chaos which followed the earthquake exposed the tenuous fault lines upon which the state of Haiti existed. Food was more important than any other factor - people fought over food, even killed for food. At one stage, the United Nations refused to allow men to queue for food because of the violence accompanying distribution. Women were given coupons to collect supplies because men used brute strength to grab whatever they could from food trucks: they trampled women and children to the ground in their frenzy to find something to eat.

Participation in agriculture is the main source of income and/or food for 70% of Haiti’s population. There are few other viable sources of income for the workforce of just under 4 million, outside of fishing. Agriculture provides more than 28% of the gross domestic product. Many individual plots are barely large enough to feed the owner’s family in a good year. Commercial agriculture is present (around 7%) but only a small segment of the population can afford its products. Despite efforts over the years by numerous international assistance organizations, high tech cultivation practices and mechanization have not been successfully adopted.

The South African government would do well to take note of what happened in Haiti and to guard with zeal those who provide the daily sustenance for South Africa’s 48 million people. What happened in Haiti should be a lesson for those who make it their business to harass and denigrate and lambaste South Africa’s commercial farming sector. In the end, it’s what’s on the dinner table each night that counts, and if that is not there, the government will suffer the awful consequences.

South Africa is fortunate to have responsible people in charge of providing food for the country. Haiti and countries like Haiti are always on a tightrope, and any natural tragedy, be it an earthquake, drought, floods or plague, can tip the balance. We can ask why South African farmers are able to replenish the larder, despite the country’s meager 12% arability, its lack of perennial rivers, its poor and unreliable rainfall and its regular droughts?

The human factor is crucial, and a look at Haiti’s history both past and contemporary reveals why the recent collapse was so all-encompassing, so dire.

Haiti’s 1791 slave uprising was the beginning of the end of prosperity. For two hundred years since then, Haiti has lurched from crisis to crisis. With quality human capital this need not have been the case.

The western part of the island then known as Hispaniola was settled by French traders in 1697, while the eastern portion remained under Spanish control. By 1789, the island was widely known as the jewel in the French colonial crown. It produced more sugar, coffee and cotton than all of the then existing colonies of North America put together. The island’s output supplied not only all of France’s requirements, but half of the entire European continent’s needs as well. Hispaniola had wonderful soil and good rainfall. At the time of this prosperity, there were approximately 40 000 whites, mostly French with some other Europeans as well. There were also around 25 000 mixed race citizens.

Black slaves numbered over 450 000 and this was to be the demographic time bomb which engulfed not only the Whites but the mixed race population as well.

The French Revolution of 1789 was the spark which lit the population pressure wick. The French National Assembly in Paris of 15 May 1791 gave voting rights to White and mixed-race citizens. But this move was rescinded after pressure from the island’s whites. The mixed race group became angry at having the vote one week, and nothing the next. A political lobby in the French Assembly, the Friends of the Blacks (Amis des Noirs) called for the franchise to go to all who were not classified as indentured. When this news was received on the island, the black population went over to a race war, attacking whites, burning plantations and plunging the island into chaos. (Not to be forgotten however was the terrible brutality of the French towards the African slaves who had been imported to work the plantations.)

French troops were brought in to quell the uprising. Violence begot violence, black fought against white and vice versa. The Napoleonic wars intervened, resulting in the withdrawal of French troops. A black rebel leader Dessalines set about slaughtering those whites unfortunate enough not to have left the island. The island was renamed Haiti in 1803 and declared a republic, the second in the Western Hemisphere after the USA, and the first independent black-ruled nation in the Caribbean.

The remaining mixed-race citizens were then annihilated. In October 1804, Dessalines declared himself emperor for life. He invited whites to return to rebuild the island. Some did, but were to regret this later. In 1805, a renewed anti-white uprising occurred. On March 18, 1805, the very last white man, woman and child on Haiti were killed. The rest is history. Haiti went from being the richest land in the Caribbean to a shambles of poverty, anarchy and chaos, which it is today, and this despite being only 35 years younger than the United States of America.

Those who rushed to help Haiti after the recent earthquake should be aware that reconstructing Haiti would simply repeat the mistakes of the past, according to USA Congressman Ron Paul. Any effort at encouraging a former colony now run by Africans to become a Western-style democracy, with rule of law, a thriving market economy, property rights, industrial production and modern communications is futile and counter productive, he believes.

Haiti’s death toll after the earthquake did not have to be that high, according to Walter E. Williams, professor of Economics at George Mason University, who happens to be black. There have been many earthquakes of higher magnitude throughout the world where the death tolls were nothing like the Haiti numbers. Haiti, even with its soil and rainfall, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80% living below the poverty line and 54% living in abject poverty. The death toll was exacerbated by, inter alia, deforestation (most of the country’s energy comes from the burning of wood), lack of roads and railways, an ineffective government unable to underpin building codes and the incompetence, laziness and nepotism so generic within many similar countries today. Indeed, the earthquake was a natural disaster, but the magnitude of the consequences was in many instances caused by man.

Since the annihilation of Haiti’s whites, there have been 32 coups. The forests have been destroyed, the population has exploded and Haiti ranks near the bottom out of 179 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. It exists on handouts. It is a parasite state. The United States has been forced to deploy troops to the island on three occasions. From 1915 to 1934, the US funded a huge reconstruction programme. In 1958, the US again attempted to rebuild the country and from 1994 to 1998, yet another rebuild took place under Operation Uphold Democracy and Operation New Horizons.

The situation before the quake was no better than a century ago. Writing in 1900, Hesketh Pritchard, an explorer and fellow of the Royal Geographic Society reported on Haiti nearly one hundred years after independence: “The Haitien has had the most beautiful and fertile of the Caribbean for his own. He has had the advantage of excellent French laws. He inherited a made country. Here was a wide land sown with prosperity, a land of wood, water, towns and plantations, and in the midst of this the inhabitants were turned out to work out their own salvation. What has he made of the chances given to him? What progress has he made over the past 100 years? Absolutely none. When he undertakes the role of governing, he does so not for the people but to fill his own pocket.

He is inept and corrupt. Can he rule himself? He cannot”.

Today, post earthquake, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has had to stop aid to private hospitals because they are charging patients for donations given by the WHO. In the markets, donated foodstuffs are being sold at double the price. Donated clothing is being sold at inflated prices. Some NGO’s are trying to get agri projects off the ground. (Why can’t the Haitians do this themselves?) In all of this, the government is nowhere to be seen, except at press conferences asking for aid.

Former president Duvalier embezzled more than $500 million. (He is reported to have killed more than 30 000 of his own people). Ex president Aristide – now living in South Africa – is also accused of salting away a fortune. (In 2000 he launched widespread violence and human rights abuses. He employed his police and paramilitaries to attack the opposition. Journalists were murdered, and executions and police brutality became the order of the day.)

Thirty percent of today’s civil service is made up of phantom employees. There is no substance to Haiti – it’s all aid and no development. Voodoo is rife. The spring of self development, the urge to know more, to improve on what is, is lacking, and Haiti will remain like it is for another two hundred years. Unable to produce its own food, despite its beautiful land and climate, it needs aid to eat. Last year, Haiti citizens in rural areas were shown on television eating mud pies – real mud and some grass mixed together.

Certain entities in South Africa continue to call for the redistribution of the country’s productive commercial farmland to the masses. Will cooler heads prevail or are those in charge simply not reading about Haiti and its history of devastated and inept agricultural production. The earthquake has indeed opened the window on this aspect of the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

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